From a young age, people learn to think of things in factors of five. For whatever reason, teaching is easier through the “5, 10, 15, 20…” method. Perhaps it’s this aspect of our nature that causes so many people to think of Walt Disney World in such terms. Why would anyone stop at four parks when five is so much easier to wrap your head around?
The problem with this line of thinking is that it puts your entire perspective of Walt Disney World in a state of limbo. After all, Disney hasn’t added a new park in Orlando since 1998. That’s 17 years and counting. To put this into perspective, consider that Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all opened during a 16-year span from 1982 to 1998.
For all the speculation about the fifth park, Disney keeps unveiling new ways to expand the parks that actually do exist. Animal Kingdom is famously receiving an Avatarland expansion at some point over the next few years after an interminable wait since its announcement in 2011. During the summer of 2015, Disney finally confirmed the long-standing rumor that Star Wars and Pixar expansions are in the works for Hollywood Studios.
That’s a lot of enhancements for the two less popular parks at Walt Disney World. It’s not the news that people have anticipated since 1998, though. Everyone knows that Walt Disney covertly acquired over 43 square miles of land during the 1960s. Only a third of that space has been developed thus far. There’s still plenty of room for growth, and Disney owns so many intellectual properties that they could easily fill several more parks if they choose to spend the resources doing so.
With the Harry Potter license continuing to pay dividends at nearby Universal Studios, Disney does appear to recognize that they have to up their game in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Until they announce a new park, however, all that we can do are speculate on what might have been if any of the rumored fifth parks for Walt Disney World had been built. Here’s everything you need to know about four (apparently) mythical Disney theme parks in Orlando, why Disney considered building them, and how/why they chose to go a different way.
How Do Rumors Get Started?
During the early days of the internet, a few people enjoyed strong relationships with Disney cast members, including Imagineers. Before the concept of the internet scoop was a part of the zeitgeist, some of these people would post details about impending Disney theme park projects. Their success ratio was intermittent at best, but that’s not a reflection of whether their information was correct. The Walt Disney Company oftentimes enters the discussion and even the planning stage for an idea before dismissing it as impractical. This is true even today, which is why one of the parks you’ll read about is no longer a standalone entity.
The point is that in the days before social media existed, internet readers took note of anyone who had viable connections to Disney employees. People who successfully projected future theme park plans garnered respect and credibility. One of these individuals was Jim Hill, who continues to proffer similar conjecture-based announcements about the future of Disney today.
Suffice to say that more than a decade of suggesting Disney projects has earned Hill some notoriety, but he’s also far from perfect with his predictions. In fact, many of the theme parks listed below are ones whose potential development he chronicled, oftentimes as the original source. With regards to the first park, however, a much larger publication started the rumors.
Disney’s first comments on the fifth gate
In August of 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was barely three months old. The Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that had chronicled Disney theme parks since day one and even a couple of years prior to that, investigated the company’s future plans. They acquired an important quote from someone who would know about Disney’s impending theme park plans.
During the majority of the 1990s, Judson Green, the then-president of Walt Disney Attractions, held a title equivalent to being leader of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts today. He determined the overall direction of Disney theme parks. When pressed for ideas about the proverbial fifth gate, i.e. the next Walt Disney World theme park, Green offered this thought-provoking response: “It's really premature to talk about a fifth gate at Orlando. The fact of the matter is we are only beginning to think what that theme might be.”
In other words, as early as 1998, Disney already had a series of plans for its follow-up to Animal Kingdom. Almost 16 years later, there’s still no fifth park. One of the reasons for this is that then-CEO Michael Eisner famously experienced several setbacks in dealing with key Disney personnel at the upper levels of the company. Green himself left The Walt Disney Company in 2000. A 19-year veteran, his exit created additional headlines about the problematic direction of Disney during that era.
While Green did achieve his primary goal, setting the table for the expansion of Disney theme parks into China, even that park, Hong Kong Disneyland, wouldn’t open for another five years after his departure. All plans Green had for the fifth gate fell by the wayside after he left. Coincidentally or not, they leaked during the year that followed his exit.